Mini-ITX motherboards have been available for years; however, they weren't usually the board of choice for system builders, looking to build an enthusiast grade desktop PC. In recent years, it appears these small in stature boards are undergoing a renaissance. From the ASUS Maximus VI Impact, the first mini-ITX board from ASUS' Republic of Gamers series that was positioned as a 'proper' small form factor Intel Z87 gaming motherboard to the Corsair Obsidian Series 250D, a well-built mini-ITX casing; we can be sure that there are many options to build a small form factor desktop system with no compromises on performance and quality.
First announced at CeBIT this year, the MSI Nightblade barebone mini-ITX system has made it more palatable for a casual system builder to eschew those bulky tower-based gaming PCs, and opt for a SFF system. For, the Nightblade is capable of accommodating a dual-slot graphics card, so as to handle the graphics processing requirements of the latest PC game releases. Even so, the Nightblade is a pretty compact system with a width of 175.7mm, with a length of 345.8mm, and is 277.3mm tall. With its inclination of meeting modern gamers needs, the Nighblade is part of MSI's highly publicized Gaming series of products within its all-in-one PC line-up.
As expected of a barebone system, you'll need to purchase your own CPU, memory, storage and graphics card. Here's a quick look at the other specifications of the system before we check out its design aspects in detail:-
|Processor and Chipset||
|Networking / Communication||
Working our way from the top, the front panel of the system has a large silver power button, and the OC Genie button, when triggered, will automatically boost the clock speeds of an unlocked processor and its accompanying memory modules. There are the usual USB 3.0 ports and audio connectors. We find the wireless LAN indicator useful as it will provide visual cues to the operational status of the onboard Intel wireless module. At the top, there are vents just beyond the front control panel.
Speaking of vents, there are intake vents at the bottom, near the carrying handle of the chassis. The position of the carrying handle also aids to prop the case at an angle that allows for better ventilation.
One of its side panels has vents for an optional intake cooling fan. It also sports a Dragon Army motif that has been tastefully painted in black:-
The other side panel has vents for the cooling fan of the bundled SilverStone 650W PSU:-
Tipping the chassis on its side, we see there are bottom intake vents with a removable dust filter.
After uprighting the chassis, we removed the decorated side panel to reveal a side fan bracket that will house an optional 92- or 120mm intake cooling fan. The company has stated the bracket has been designed "to support R9 290X graphics cards"; however, we felt that it will provide additional cooling to any installed graphics card, provided that the intake fan has been installed.
We removed the side fan bracket so that the bundled MSI Z87I Gaming AC motherboard can be seen clearly. The mini-ITX motherboard features Military Class IV VRM components for stable and reliable power delivery, just like its full ATX counterpart, the MSI Z87-GD65. The system supports overclocked DDR3 memory modules that have been rated to operate up to 3000MHz. However, do take note that there are only a pair of DIMM slots; hence, the total capacity of supported RAM maxes out at 16GB.
Current high-end mini-ITX motherboards tend to be packed with features, and the Z87I Gaming AC is no exception. As a nod to gamers, the board features the Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller that is touted to reduce network latency to improve online gaming experience. For wireless networking, there is an onboard Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module, which also supports Intel WiDi. The board also features a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo that is optimized for high polling rate gaming mice.
Audiophiles will be pleased to know the board supports the Audio Boost technology. This means the audio options of the system are powered by an onboard Realtek ALC1150 audio codec chip that has EMI shielding implemented on the board and a headphone amplifier. In addition, the audio ports have a thin gold plating that provides better conductivity and prevents the connections from rusting over time.